The New York marathon means a lot to Kenyans. That’s no secret. Consider these reactions over the last few days on Twitter as the debate waged over its cancellation:
And then after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the marathon:
He’s not so far from the truth. The marathon’s cancellation came as a big blow to both professional and amateur runners. The professional runners have been declared winners several times. To us, names such as Geoffrey Mutai, Robert Cheruiyot, and Susan Chepkemei are synonymous with the marathon. And perhaps among the most famous of long-distance runners, Kenya’s Paul Tergat, held the world record in the marathon from 2003 to 2007.
But a lot of amateur runners from Kenya have been joining the race in recent years. One who planned to is Mercy Mureithi, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has been training for the marathon since early 2011. An amateur runner who participated in various marathons and runathons in South Africa, she was looking forward to the New York marathon as the highlight of 2012.
“This was supposed to be my first New York marathon, so I had really anticipated it but I understand the reasons but behind the cancellation,” says Mureithi. “I had purchased my air ticket, received my visa, suitable running attire and also found accommodation. The air ticket and accommodation costs are not refunded. I arrived in the US and found out that the marathon had been canceled.”
She spoke to me by phone today. Like many runners in the marathon, she was trying to raise money for a cause: the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, an institution that educates students from all over Africa, started by Fred Swaniker. She had five other running mates on her team, from South Africa, Kenya, and the US. They had raised $20,000 with hopes to double that during and after the marathon.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity so you invest time, money, and energy in training for it. It is not just another race, it is iconic,”she adds. “Now that I am here in the US, I will spend time with my relatives and friend. I plan to run next year.”
Meanwhile, Kenya rejoiced over a different marathon today. James Kwambai won the Joon Ang Seoul Marathon in 2:05:50—setting a new course record.
And maybe we Kenyans can take a lead from Mureithi. Without a race to run, she redirected her energy to help campaign for a fellow countryman in the race of his life this week: President Barack Obama.